/ October 16, 2013
Everyday I go to work and get to see hundreds of different people going through their workouts. I fully understand that not everyone wants to be a bodybuilder or bench press 300 pounds but there are a number of things I see people doing that seem to strike a nerve. Here’s five of them:
1. Going Too Heavy
You see this all the time. Typically with guys that are tying to get to a new strength level. On Universal Bench Press day- I mean every Monday you will typically see the majority of the male population training the same things in the same order. Guys will throw 135 pounds on a bar and hit it 10 times. Then they’ll up it to 185 and do that a few times. Finally they will throw 225 pounds on the bar and crank out as many half reps or partner assisted reps as they can to the sounds of said partner yelling “all you, all you.” After that it’s on to the incline dumbbell press for 3 sets of 10 etc.
The point is, use all the weights you have available. I like to tell everyone that is trying to get stronger that those 2.5’ers will eventually become your best friend. The faster you learn to use them over jumping up to larger weights, the faster you will make progress.
2. Going Too Light
I know this seems puzzling after the previous comment but I see this all the time too. If you goal is to become stronger and shape your body in the process, you have to lift something that will elicit a muscular and nervous system response.
I usually see this all the time with the ladies. Often times I will see a woman pick up a light set of dumbbells and go through what I call the “soccer mom workout.” You know, where you pick up a set of dumbbells and do pretty much every movement you can think of without moving from one spot as if your strength levels for every exercise would be the same. The movements are typically spastic and are done so that the person can carry on a conversation about which Starbucks they will meet their friends at after the “workout.” Tomorrow, they will be back in there doing the same exact thing all over again.
I think this comes from the misconception that lighter weights for more reps will equal “toning.” What is “toning” by the way? Ladies, training with heavier weights will not make you big and bulky but will instead develop your muscles in a way that will allow you see them provided your dietary plan is in check to keep your body fat low enough.
3. Doing the Same thing All the Time
Changing your program up every week can be detrimental to assessing progress but doing the same thing all the time can be even worse.
First, you run into overuse injuries to the muscle tissue and the joints. Constantly moving something the same way in the same plane can cause adhesions which can lead to scar tissue which will inhibit performance in the long run. Something as simple as moving your feet in more narrow or out wider for squats, or using a barbell over a dumbbell can make the difference between staying injury free and getting banged up.
Secondly, you can’t make progress in the same exercises forever. If that were the case there would 2000 pound bench presses and 500 biceps curls on everyone. There is a set max to how strong you can get on a particular exercise and yes using special intensity techniques like drop sets, extended sets etc. you can increase the threshold but eventually you will become stagnant. Find a variation of that exercise and get a freaky strong on that one as you can. You can always go back to your favorite one again in the future.
The third reason to switch your programs up on a regular basis is to make sure you are not undertraining certain muscle groups or movements. Doing this can lead to unbalanced injuries. A particular one that comes to mind would be the quad dominance over the hamstrings of many athletes leading to ACL or hamstring tears. Train every major muscle to avoid this kind of injury.
4. Trying to Get Too Complex
This one is aimed mostly at the younger population in the gym. Recently I have been getting asked a lot of questions about arm growth. Actually, not recently but ever since I started working as a trainer 10 years ago. Most of the questions deal with things like, “should I train my brachioradialis before my biceps or vice versa?” or “what should I do to make my arms grow an inch?” My answer usually sounds something like this, “put 50 solid pounds on your squat over time and I bet you won’t be complaining about arm size.”
My point is that you should put a focus on the basic exercises until you have built a level of strength up to warrant getting more complex with your training. I think most should be able to squat and deadlift 1.5 times their bodyweight and bench press 1.25 their bodyweight before asking questions about arm specialization. I have yet to see someone who squats and deadlifts 400 pounds and bench presses 300 plus pounds with small, undeveloped arms.
5. Not Having a Well Thought out Plan and Expecting Results
Real progress in the gym takes a thought out and detailed plan. Going to the gym without one and just winging it is a complete waste of time unless your goal is to just say you showed up. With the wealth of knowledge from trainers, coaches, online websites and forums, there’s no reason not to have one. With that plan you should expect results! If your goal is fat loss, measure you body fat and weight once a week. If your goal is to get stronger on certain things assess those lifts every week and change the program accordingly.
Above all expect results, sooner rather than later. Yes, it takes a few weeks to get from 15% body fat to 10% but it shouldn’t take a year. Have you been stale with your strength development? Set up a 4-8 week program focused on the particular things you want to get stronger at. Look at your diet, training and cardio regimen and fix it or hire someone who can.